Christian conservatives put George Bush over the top in South Carolina. Without their overwhelming support, he would have lost the primary. So it's useful to ask: How important will Christian conservatives be as a voting bloc in the coming primaries?

Of the 18 states that hold primaries in the next three weeks, not a single one has as many self-described Evangelical Protestants in its electorate as South Carolina. For instance, in Michigan, which holds its crucial primary Tuesday, a quarter of adults self-identify as Evangelical Protestants, compared to 37 percent in South Carolina.

Michigan is much closer to being a microcosm of the nation than is South Carolina or New Hampshire. Twenty six percent of Michigan's adult population is Catholic, compared to six percent for South Carolina. Michigan has a lot more of everything else too--including more blue-collar and ethnic Republican voters.

Bush also did well among opponents of abortion, with three-fifths of the vote, while McCain received a majority of the pro-choice vote. Anti-abortion voters, anxious for a Republican to regain the White House, apparently set aside any doubts they may harbor about the depth of Bush's commitment to their issue in favor of a show of solidarity with their party's frontrunner. Voters were probably also influenced by ads run by Right-to-Life groups in South Carolina attacking McCain, in large part because of his views on campaign finance reform, not abortion. (Were the attacks fair? Charlotte Hays says yes and Gregg Easterbrook says no.

Although the "visible army" of the Religious Right was aslightly smaller percentage than in 1996 (34 to 37 percent), Saturday's record South Carolina primary turnout meant that an additional 90,000 Christian conservatives came to the polls. Bush's aggressive courting of the Religious Right, including his controversial visit tofundamentalist Bob Jones University, paid off.

The question now is whether his association with Bob Jones, which helped in South Carolina, will hurt in Michigan, where Catholics may be offended by anti-Catholic comments made by the school's leadership.

Clearly, Bush's victory was not based solely on religious conservatives. McCain will need to do far better among rank-and-file Republicans to beat Bush, but it is clear that without religious conservatives, the other states have more naturally receptive electorates.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus